Once upon a time, the process of travelling for business was purely functional; a necessary part of an organisation’s day-to-day workings and if you didn’t like it then there was little you could do about it.
However, in the last few years the business travel tide has certainly turned.
Organisations are becoming much more conscious of the toll that business travel can take on individual travellers, which is an encouraging thought, as a recent study concluded that business travellers lose an average of 6.9 hours due to stress per trip. This effort to understand the experiences of frequent travellers has lead to the discovery of traveller friction.
Traveller friction is probably something that has been lurking within business travel for decades, but has previously gone unnamed, however more and more organisations are now identifying ways of smoothing that friction, in an effort to achieve a travel management strategy that looks out for company budget and culture, as well as individual traveller interests.
What is traveller friction?
Traveller friction is the term used to describe the negative impact business travel can have on a traveller when they are travelling too much or the business travel that they undertake does not best satisfy their well-being.
Traveller friction can result in reduced productivity, low employee engagement, reluctance to travel and can lead to employees taking more time off sick. It can also lead to higher staff turnover.
What does traveller friction mean for your business travel programme?
Travellers who are consistently dissatisfied with how they are travelling for business are more likely to book out of contract, meaning they will shun the services of your contracted travel management company if they’re unhappy with the service or options that are offered to them, therefore causing leakage.
In turn, this will not only compromise any travel spend savings goals that are looking to be achieved, but also compromises the safety of the traveller, as there is no record of their booking and their whereabouts cannot be tracked in the event of an emergency.
A further knock-on effect of this is that it limits an organisation’s ability to fulfil its duty of care obligations to travellers. Of course, traveller friction may be occurring due to travellers feeling as though duty of care expectations aren’t being met, so it’s vital to have honest conversations with travellers and travel managers in order to get to the root cause of the dissatisfaction.
How can you deal with traveller friction in your organisation?
Re-visit your travel policy
Checking your travel policy to ensure that it sets parameters that are realistic for employees is worthwhile; a travel policy should guide employees, whilst not being so restrictive that it causes negative sentiment.
Analysing your MI regularly will show trends in how employees travel (and also helps you to identify whether compliance is a departmental issue, or more widespread…), as well as popular hotels and locations; once you’ve pulled this together it would be useful to then have a conversation with employees and gather their feedback; they may have valid reasons that can be worked into a more flexible, but effective, travel policy. With that in mind, it may be worth talking to your travel management company (TMC) about whether they can help you to introduce a dynamic travel policy.
Provide well-being training and support
Travelling to unfamiliar places can cause feelings of displacement and anxiety amongst regular business travellers and can sometimes leave them feeling isolated. This creates an environment and atmosphere that is not necessarily sensitive to their well-being; for example, they can make unhealthier food choices due to lack of knowledge of the area or find themselves in noisy hotels that disrupt their sleep.
One way to support your ‘road warriors’ is to provide travellers with a list of recommended or preferred restaurants, hotels, or airlines that support your organisation’s wellness objectives, meeting company expectations and travel wellness criteria for healthy food, exercise and stress and sleep management.
Introduce gamification into your organisation
Most of us experience gamification every time we receive a stamp on our rewards card when we buy a coffee, or receive a discount code as a thank you for purchasing an item online, and introducing these concepts into the arena of business travel can be a really effective way of encouraging travellers to book in policy, be mindful of their travel spend or even just as a way of giving back to travellers who travel often.
Some organisations operate a points system, with travellers who book 3 weeks in advance receiving 50 points, 1 week in advance earning 10 points and so on. The more points that they have the more they can use to buy rewards such as trips or cinema tickets at the end of the financial year.
There are many ways in which the gaming system can be implemented and used, for example booking with preferred suppliers; not checking in unnecessary bags; picking the best value hotels; completing expense reports early and using off airport parking.
Explore the concept of ‘Bleisure’
The concept of bleisure seems to have gained some real momentum in the last six months and the idea of what constitutes a ‘bleisure trip’ is broadening, now referring to the decision to tag a few days of annual leave onto the end of a trip.
Financially, a bleisure trip can make sense; the employee isn’t increasing spend by extending their trip, as your organisation will already be paying for the travel. In fact, if a traveller’s decision to extend their trip means that they can return at a less popular travelling time then a spot of bleisure could actually cause a reduction in travel spend for the trip. Of course, the benefits of bleisure extend far beyond cost and allowing an employee to enjoy some recreation time is a surefire way to increase employee satisfaction, as well as reducing the likelihood of ‘burnout’ and other stress-related health problems.
However, the primary concern with bleisure is that organisations are fulfilling their Duty of Care obligations to their employees and the only realistic, practical way to mitigate against difficult situations is to explicitly address the matter of bleisure trips within your corporate travel policy; that way, both employer and employee know where they stand and what they’re accountable for.
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